The Homophobic Counselor, the Ethical Bigot, and the One-Legged Tarzan

Jennifer Keeton was expelled from the graduate program at Georgia’s Augusta State University in 2010 because her Christian religious convictions dictate that homosexuality is sinful and voluntary conduct, rather than an innate sexual orientation. A court upheld the school’s right to expel her on the basis that her beliefs made it impossible for her to meet their counseling standards, which the court ruled were neutral, and did not discriminate against her speech or religion.

The case may raise legitimate constitutional issues. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group, and Constitutional Law professor Eugene Volokh (of Volokh Conspiracy fame) are assisting Keaton as she attempts to get reinstated. Ethically, however, I don’t think she has a leg to stand on.
In fact, I think her position resembles the old Dudley Moore-Peter Cook comedy routine where Moore is one-legged amputee who cries foul at being “discriminated against” by a film director who refuses to consider him for the role of Tarzan:

Similarly, how can a counselor claim to be able to provide full and competent services when her attitude toward gays dictates an unsympathetic, hostile and scientifically discredited point of view?

There is a way, actually: Keaton could, theoretically, counsel individuals with issues related to their sexual orientation according to accepted counseling standards, ignoring her own beliefs and not involving them in her counseling approach at all, just as lawyers ethically and competently advise and represent individuals whose objectives and character the lawyers themselves find misguided or reprehensible. For example, the California Bar determined that a tax attorney could personally believe that the income tax was unconstitutional and even run an organization dedicated to convincing citizens to refuse to pay the I.R.S., as long as she didn’t carry those beliefs into her work for tax clients. Keeton refuses to do that, however. She continues to apply her religious hostility to gays in her relationships with those she counsels.

The fact that she has a right to her religious beliefs and to speak about them when and where she chooses does not mean that she can do this in every profession under the sun, just as the “unidexter,” as Moore’s character called himself, couldn’t rationally be indignant that his handicap disqualified him to emulate Johnny Weissmuller. In short, she is not being mistreated. A hostile attitude toward homosexuality may be justified by the Word of God, or it may be ignorant bigotry, but whatever it is, it is out of place in the psychological counseling of gay men and women.  Keeton’s plight is similar to that of the Christian pharmacist who wants to withhold birth control from single women and a refuse to sell condoms to gay men. The short and correct response to his conflicting aspiration is: “Sorry. Find another line of work.”

This is not discrimination, but rather the application of practical reality. Keeton can’t be a competent counselor if she insists on telling gays that they are sinners, perverts, and going to Hell unless they straighten up. She isn’t being discriminated against. Her objective is unreasonable, and what she wants to do will cause tangible harm.

But cheer up, Jennifer! The one-legged actor had plenty of good options: he could play Long John Silver, for example. You can go to work for Rick Santorum. Counseling, however, is out.

Post Script: This story caused me to think about my law school room mate—call him Lex— during my first year, one of the more unusual people I have ever known. Lex was handsome, charismatic, funny, athletic, generous, popular, and an unrepentant homophobe, racist and anti-Semite. He also was candid and adamant about the reasons for his beliefs…to trusted friends, and those who were not black, Asian, gay or Jewish. Yet he never exhibited any bias in his conduct, and when he died suddenly in his second year of law school, many of the classmates who traveled from D.C. to Philadelphia for his funeral were members of the very groups he derided in conversations with me. These people considered my roommate a good friend, and had no knowledge of his prejudices.

I asked him once about this, and Lex answered, “Why does this puzzle you? Jesus taught the Golden Rule. Being black or Jewish doesn’t exempt someone from being treated fairly, respectfully and with kindness—that’s how I want them to treat me. Besides, just because I think the members of a group or race in general are inferior doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t judge every individual on his own character and conduct.” That was my friend Lex—the ethical bigot. And he made me realize that we shouldn’t judge people on their beliefs, but only their conduct to the outside world. The inside of our heads can be a strange and ugly places, but it is what the rest of our bodies do that matters.

_________________________________________

Facts: Augusta Chronicle

Source: The Blaze

Graphic: Strange Cosmos

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

23 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

23 responses to “The Homophobic Counselor, the Ethical Bigot, and the One-Legged Tarzan

  1. Your conclusion is the reason I read and admire your blog, even though I often disagree with you. You’ve educated, opened and changed my mind. Thanks.
    ~CR

  2. Inquiring Mind

    I think the bigger ethical lapse is on the part of the university.

    The “proof” – if you want to call it that – simply consists of the fact that Jennifer Keeton is a devout Christian, and not shy about explaining her beliefs as they pertain to this issue. There is no indication of hostility towards homosexuals as people, or any evidence of bigotry other than she doesn’t buy into the worldview expressed by the professors. That alone is not sufficient – and quite frankly, I think a good look at the 6th Circuit’s ruling in the case of Julea Ward (another Christian student facing similar expulsion for her beliefs) is in order. The opinion pointed out that tolerance is a two-way street.

    In essence, Augusta State University is hanging out a sign saying, “Christians need not apply” to become guidance counselors. What is to say that there may not be devout Christians who may have same-sex attraction, but who have decided that they want to abide by the tenets of their religion?

    Is it ethical to instead have a counselor tell them to turn their back on their religious heritage, and likely split up a family emotionally (which could happen in the case of a teenager)? Give people the option of deciding how to handle balancing their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation.

    The fact remains that freedom means people will have beliefs that others might profoundly disagree with. But when such a profound disagreement closes off an entire career line, then those doing the closing off are engaging in conduct that is not exactly ethical. Jennifer Keeton was expelled because she was Christian, with no proof that she would be incompetent as a counselor.

    Are we now to accept that bigotry against Christians is okay in the name of gay rights? We just traded one unethical course of action for another, albeit the new unethical course of action is politically correct and accepted among the academic, legal, and media elites.

    Sorry, but I don’t think that is a good thing. We just traded one bad thing for something just as bad.

    • Michael Ejercito

      That alone is not sufficient – and quite frankly, I think a good look at the 6th Circuit’s ruling in the case of Julea Ward (another Christian student facing similar expulsion for her beliefs) is in order. The opinion pointed out that tolerance is a two-way street.

      The Ward ruling in fact pointed out very significant differences between the two cases.

      A recent decision of the Eleventh Circuit, when read together with our decision, helps to illustrate the permissible and impermissible ways to handle the vexing issues that occasionally arise in enforcing anti-discrimination policies through a school curriculum. Also at issue in Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, 664 F.3d 865 (11th Cir.2011), was a graduate-level counseling program and the school’s enforcement of an anti-discrimination policy in the context of a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Eleventh Circuit ruled for Augusta State University, rejecting a student’s appeal of a preliminary-injunction decision in which the trial court refused to require the school to re-admit her after she refused to complete a remediation plan. Id. at 880-81.
      At one level, the two decisions look like polar opposites, as a student loses one case and wins the other. But there is less tension, or for that matter even disagreement, between the two cases than initially meets the eye. The procedural settings of the two cases differ. In Keeton, the district court made preliminary fact findings after holding a hearing in which both sides introduced evidence in support of their claims. Id. at 867-69. Not only are there no trial-level fact findings here, but Ward also gets the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences in challenging the summary-judgment decision entered against her.
      The two claimants’ theories of constitutional protection also are miles apart. Keeton insisted on a constitutional right to engage in conversion therapy—that is, if a “client discloses that he is gay, it was her intention to tell the client that his behavior is morally wrong and then try to change the client’s behavior.” Id. at 869. That approach, all agree, violates the ACA code of ethics by imposing a counselor’s values on a client, a form of conduct the university is free to prohibit as part of its curriculum. Instead of insisting on changing her clients, Ward asked only that the university not change her—that it permit her to refer some clients in some settings, an approach the code of ethics appears to permit and that no written school policy prohibits. Nothing in Keeton indicates that Augusta State applied the prohibition on imposing a counselor’s values on the client in anything but an even-handed manner. Not so here, as the code of ethics, counseling norms, even the university’s own practices, seem to permit the one thing Ward sought: a referral.

      Ward v. Polite, 667 F.3d 727 at 741 (6th Cir. Jan. 27, 2012)

      Keeton would be analogous to an atheist counselor insisting to tell all Christian, Muslim, and other religious clients that there is no God. Ward would be analagous to a client wanting to refer devout Christian, Muslim, or other religious clients seeking reaffirmation of a belief in God.

    • Peter

      Very well spoken, and precisely reasoned.
      Certainly, we must not judge ethical conduct by what is “politically correct,” a term which is itself an oxymoron, since the word “correct” needs no modifier. In this context, the modifier “politically…” suggests that there can be some OTHER modifier against which it is opposed, such as “actually… ” :)
      In the current context, the discrimination against the plaintiff would be especially unjustified if there were a preponderance on NON-gay students that could still benefit from whatever OBJECTIVELY determinable counseling skills she may have, in matters which do not involve homosexual orientation. (Unless of course, the aim is to install only gay counselors who will partake in ADVOCACY). Even in an all-gay institution, she might still have a legitimate position, easy enough to acknowledge if Biblical in its basis, but perhaps even in the additional instance, if arrived at through application of “non-Christian” observation, reason, analysis and conclusion, if done with preservation of respect for the individual. Furthermore, as stated above, she could well serve as a resource for those students who are legitimately confused about their sexual orientation, and may be entitled to a “B side” point of view.
      My recommendation for this plaintiff, somewhat with tongue in cheek, would be that she bring a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, since a Christian viewpoint would appear to qualify as such in the current context of 2012 secular America.

  3. Michael Ejercito

    Subscribe.

  4. My recommendation for this plaintiff, somewhat with tongue in cheek, would be that she bring a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, since a Christian viewpoint would appear to qualify as such in the current context of 2012 secular America.

    Only some minority fringe sects would qualify, “Christianity” per se would not. Racism of the most overt kind, and rabid Anti-Semitism too should also qualify as mental illnesses, if they cause violent or harmful action.

    Currently an artificial and arbitrary distinction is made between Psychosis – belief in talking snakes who are invaders from an invisible planet circling the moon – and talking snakes because they’re in a holy book.

    People should be free to believe what they wish to. That “WASTE” stands for “We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire”, that Jews drink the blood of Christian Children, that Black Americans have tails that are secretly amputated at birth, that a “Firmament” with stars attached to it is at a height of 463 cubits above the Earth, or that the Queen of England is a reptilian from Alpha Draconis.

    But when they start taking action on those beliefs, contrary to all evidence, and those actions are objectively harmful to others, a line has been crossed. Invoking the spell of “Freedom of Religion” shouldn’t be an automatic excuse-all.

    We already shackle much religious practice – sacrificing children to Moloch, strangling strangers for Kali, ripping out hearts for Huitzilopochtli, for example.

  5. Jack, your observations here are stunningly short-sighted. There is no reason Keeton can’t be a counselor. Like the Christian pharmacist who refuses to sell condoms, she can refer gay patients to another psychologist. When a counselor finds that the patient-doctor relationship has broken down or won’t work, they can refer them elsewhere. It happens all the time. And anyhow, what is the problem with the Christian pharmacist who won’t sell condoms? If you have a problem with that, you don’t have to shop there. Believe it or not, it isn’t your civil right to buy a condom wherever you want.

    As for the post-script, doesn’t that prove the point that she could effectively counsel gays without harming them?

    • No. My room mate never told backs and Jews what was the matter with their groups…she does. She didn’t refuse to counsel gays; she “counseled” them by telling them they were sinners. I see no indication that she agreed that she wouldn’t counsel gays. If she did, I’d agree with you.

      But you are dead, dead wrong about the pharmacist, and since I’ve written about this a lot, you can check the links. If one pharmacist can withhold birth control, they all can: it fails the Rule of Universality, reciprocity and utilitarianism—it’s libertarian crap, in other words, of the same sort that would allow private shops to refuse to serve blacks and Muslims.

      • Michael Ejercito

        If one pharmacist can withhold birth control, they all can: it fails the Rule of Universality, reciprocity and utilitarianism—it’s libertarian crap, in other words, of the same sort that would allow private shops to refuse to serve blacks and Muslims.

        It is no different in principle than McDonald’s withholding lobster bisque. By your logic, we should forbid McDonald’s from withholding lobster bisque because all other restaurants might do so as well.

        • Worst Analogy Ever. Nobody has to acquire lobster bisque, it isn’t health related,and isn’t essential. A pharmacy is a public accommodation, and the job of pharmacist is a professional one, which means that he or she has the duty to assist the public in a daily need. Forcing an individual to endure inconvenience because a so-called professional’s biases and beliefs interfere with their duties is intolerable. And MacDonald’s can’t withhold its sandwiches because an employee, as a matter of conscience, doesn’t think black people should eat.

          I’m sure you can do better.

          • Worst Analogy Ever. Nobody has to acquire lobster bisque, it isn’t health related,and isn’t essential. A pharmacy is a public accommodation, and the job of pharmacist is a professional one, which means that he or she has the duty to assist the public in a daily need. Forcing an individual to endure inconvenience because a so-called professional’s biases and beliefs interfere with their duties is intolerable. And MacDonald’s can’t withhold its sandwiches because an employee, as a matter of conscience, doesn’t think black people should eat.

            You are confusing the issue of refusing to offer a particular type of service with refusing to offer service to a particular class of customer.

            Withholding birth control constitutes denying a particular type of service, not denying a particular class of customer.

            • That’s not true. The conscience clause cases do not involve not carrying a product, but rather withholding a product from classes of individuals. They involve specific pharmacists refusing to distribute medical supplied and drugs that the store has stocked, because of the class of the customer, e.g., unmarried women. How many sole proprietorship drug stores are there, where the pharmacist is the owner? Not many. If some boob wants to open a half-assed pharmacy that only carries band-aids and Q-tips, good luck with that.

              • Now you’re being ridiculous, Jack. Pharamcies carry more than just band-aids, Q-tips, and condoms. Geez, what do you know about pharmacies anyway?

                And how can you classify a condom as a medical necessity? It’s about as medically necessary as plastic surgery on your nose. Nobody’s going to die because they didn’t get a condom in time.

                And as for pharmacies where it’s an employee refusing to sell the store’s products. Well, yes you should be able to fire that person. If you don’t want to sell the pharmacies product, then start your own pharmacy. Agreed.

                • 1. You apparently are not familiar with the rhetorical device of hyberbole.
                  2. I know that when I go to a pharmacy, I expect it to have a full range of standards health-related products and devices, including prescription drugs, and if it does not, it is falsely advertising itself as a “drug store”/pharmacy.
                  3. Condoms are not health-related necessities? How are things in the 19th Century?
                  4 People have died/killed themselves/lost jobs/lost careers because they didn’t get a condom in time. Don’t you watch the Lifetime Channel?
                  5. The Bush conscience clause law protected such employees.

                  • les9

                    Condoms can be purchased in most any gas station bathroom for crying out loud. According to your logic, every gas station bathroom is really a pharmacy operating illegally without a license. I don’t think that one pharmacy that refuses to sell them is going to ruin anybody’s lives. But anyway, go ahead and fight your crusade about condoms, Jack. I’ve lost interest.

              • Michael Ejercito

                They involve specific pharmacists refusing to distribute medical supplied and drugs that the store has stocked, because of the class of the customer, e.g., unmarried women.

                Unless you have evidence that those pharmacists who refuse to sell birth control pills to women sell birth control pills to men, then the issue of denial of a particular product, not denial of a product to a particular class of customer.

                • tgt

                  It doesn’t matter if the pharmacists dispenses X to Y and Z or if the pharmacist refuses to dispense X at all. In both cases, it’s a professional violation. To be a licensed pharmacist, you are required to dispense the medication.

                  We’ve been over this topic numerous times. and you’ve repeat the same failed arguments each time.

    • Michael Ejercito

      Like the Christian pharmacist who refuses to sell condoms, she can refer gay patients to another psychologist.

      Unlike Julea Ward, Jennifer Keeton was not referring gay patients. She wanted to practice conversion therapy, i.e., f a “client discloses that he is gay, it was her intention to tell the client that his behavior is morally wrong and then try to change the client’s behavior.” Keeton, 664 F.3d at 869. It is thus perfectly analogous to an atheist counselor insisting on telling religious clients that there is no God and to try to change their client’s beliefs, in stark contrast to an atheist counselor who refer clients who seek reaffirmation of their belief in God.

      • Now THAT’s right. No substance abuse counselor is going to get certified if her approach is to tell alcoholics that their problem is low character and immorality, either…and quite correctly.

  6. Great article and comments. Seems that with the new laws Christians are finding themselves in an ever decreasingly smaller circle as would Muslims in some of the same circumstances. It would be best if they could obtain jobs under a church auspices but even that has come under attack recently. If a therapist decides to work for a Christian Psychiatric Association would the association eventually succumb to a new law that says they must provide non-Christian therapy? Probably at the rate things are going.
    Personally,I think Christians should provide Christian therapy under the church but only because most Christians would agree that mental and emotional problems are also spiritual in nature and require spiritual healing. This would not mix with secular therapies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s